The Lure of Grilled Fish Some fresh ideas to help a Father's Day barbecue go swimmingly


The two traditions make an ideal combination - firing up the grill and celebrating Father's Day.

Summer ushers in the grilling season, time to hit the deck and pull the cover off the grill - unless you are a fan of all-weather grilling.

Instead of the traditional steak or burgers for Dad on Sunday, try seafood for something a little different. A Cajun Catfish Sandwich is as down-home as a burger. Charcoal-Grilled Trout With Herbs adds a light but tasty touch to a menu of grilled onions, corn on the cob, potato salad and coleslaw.

Moist and meaty, fish steaks - salmon, tuna, swordfish or any big Hawaiian fish - can be as satisfying as sirloin, and better for you.

Even Tex-Mex seafood has earned its stripes on backyard grills. Try grilled fish wrapped in a tortilla with grilled onions and drizzled with salsa-spiked mayonnaise. And Barbecued Shrimp Stuffed With Chili Peppers sets off the kind of fireworks that will dazzle any red-blooded chili-head.

Fear of fish

Grilled seafood may be the restaurant rage, but many backyard grillers hesitate to tackle fish, says Jane Nelson, operations director for the Weber Grill Line. "They aren't sure it's going to work," says Nelson. "They're fearful of overcooking."

It's a fear easily conquered, however, when you follow a few guidelines. For example, the general test for doneness is that the fish turns from translucent to opaque, and the flesh flakes when prodded with a fork, Nelson says. "You have to realize it's quick [cooking], so watch the fish closely."

If grilling fish over medium heat, generally allow 10 minutes per inch of thickness, with some exceptions. Seafood market owner Tom Haden says swordfish, salmon and tuna shouldn't be cooked as long, because a little translucence in the center is desirable.

"People think, 'I've got to cook it fully,' but what that does is dry it out. If anything, tuna should be a little pink in the center, for medium-rare." That means cooking 7 to 8 minutes for a 1-inch-thick tuna steak. He says cooks who prefer their fish rare should be certain they've bought fresh fish.

The other big grilling fear is of the fish sticking to the rack. To avoid the problem, Haden suggests oiling a clean grill rack and preheating it. Also, he suggests brushing the fish with oil and turning it only once, halfway through the estimated cooking time.

"Too many people flip-flop steak throughout the cooking process," Haden says. "You do that with fish and it's going to break up." Flipping fish too soon also leaves flesh on the rack, he says. In contrast, once the fish has been seared, it's less likely to stick when turned.

For best results, stick to firm-textured fish, such as tuna, shark, salmon, catfish and snapper. Delicate fish fillets, such as sole and flounder, fall apart easily.

Thinner pieces of fish can be grilled on lightly greased aluminum foil, Nelson says. If the fillets are thin enough and have no bone, they should cook through without turning. Thicker fillets can be turned with a spatula.

The whole fish

Grilling a whole fish makes for spectacular presentation and flavor. But because large fish can be unwieldy to turn, select small- to medium-sized fish. A 1-pound fish or smaller can be a single serving.

"I like whole catfish," says Robert Williamson, an avid griller. He grills small catfish in individual pouches of heavy-duty foil, sprinkling the fish with bottled tequila-lime sauce, Spanish olives and whole hot chili peppers.

"I seal it up like an envelope," he says, "and it puffs up like a frog as it cooks." He adds that a double thickness of heavy-duty foil should make the package durable enough to flip with tongs without breaking the fish.

But foil won't work if you want a crispy skin and charcoal flavor. A charcoal-grilled whole fish requires some finesse to turn, too, but a wire-hinged grill basket makes it easy.

Adding flavor

Marinating fish isn't necessary, but it can add flavor. The key is not to go overboard. Too strong a marinade can overpower fish. So can marinating it too long. Usually, 15 minutes is plenty of time, although some recipes advocate marinating up to 30 minutes. Citrus-based marinades can actually break down fish meat, ruining its texture.

Marinades are best reserved for thick fish steaks, such as swordfish and shark; avoid marinades completely on thin fillets and whole fish.

When marinating fish, use light-flavored marinades, such as a mixture of lemon, olive oil, garlic and herbs or spices. One idea is to dilute bottled teriyaki sauce with three parts water to one part sauce to lighten it.

Shellfish also are poor choices for marinades, Williamson says, but they do have enough flavor to handle any flavor competition. Even bottled barbecue sauce works on shrimp, Williamson says. He prepares Barbecued Shrimp Stuffed With Chili Peppers by brushing on store-bought barbecue sauce just minutes before grilling.

However, the peppers can "shock your friends," he says. So unless your guests can handle the heat, seed and slice the peppers into slivers before stuffing them in the shrimp.

Get fresh

Marinades, coatings and crusts can't help a fish that is past its prime. It's important to buy fresh fish to ensure good flavor, texture and food safety. Fish markets and most super stock fresh fish as well as previously frozen fish.

The smell and feel of fish are good indications of freshness, Haden says. "It should feel firm and moist, never clammy or sticky."

Fresh fish should also be odorless. A good fish market will let you smell fish before buying, he says. "If you can smell it, and it smells fishy, don't buy it."

Tips for grilling fish

* Heat charcoal until gray ashes cover the surface.

* Oil the rack, position it 4 to 6 inches from the coals and preheat it before grilling fish.

* Brush fish with oil before grilling or marinate briefly. n Keep marinades light to avoid overpowering the flavor of the fish. Try a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil and garlic, or lemon juice, soy sauce, olive oil and ginger.

* Grill fish 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness, turning once midway through the cooking.

* Cook foil-wrapped fish 15 minutes for each inch of thickness.

* Check fish for doneness by inserting a knife in the center. Whitefish and thin fillets should be opaque in the center. Tuna may be translucent. Other thick fish steaks can be removed with just a hint of translucence in the center.

* Add wood chips or herbs such as thyme and dill or garlic cloves over the coals for another hint of flavor.

* Firm-fleshed fish, such as salmon or swordfish, can be cut into chunks, marinated and skewered for kebabs.

* Thread shrimp and scallops for kebabs. Choose jumbo shrimp and sea scallops, as anything smaller will dry out on the grill. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, turning once.

Charcoal-Grilled Trout With Herbs

Makes 4 servings

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon dried, crumbled thyme, rosemary or sage

8 to 12 small sprigs fresh thyme, rosemary or individual sage leaves

4 small fresh trout (3/4 pound to 1 pound each), cleaned

coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 cup melted butter for dipping

4 lemon wedges

Position rack 4 to 6 inches from heat in medium-hot grill. Combine flour and dried herbs. Tuck 2 or 3 small sprigs of fresh herbs inside trout. Dredge trout in flour mixture, sprinkling each side with salt and pepper. Dredge both sides in melted butter and place immediately on grill rack. Grill 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness (measured at thickest part), turning once after 4 or 5 minutes. Serve whole with lemon wedges to drizzle over fish.

Per serving: 663 calories (48 percent fat); 34 grams fat (17 grams saturated); 1 gram fiber; 232 milligrams cholesterol; 585 milligrams sodium; 24 grams carbohydrate; 211 milligrams calcium

Pepper-Crusted Salmon

Makes 4 servings

1/2 cup cracked black pepper

4 salmon steaks

1 or 2 teaspoons olive oil

4 tablespoons bottled tomato-citrus vinaigrette or Orange Butter (butter recipe follows)

Position grill rack at lowest position, preferably 2 inches from heat. Preheat a cast-iron griddle or wide skillet (see note) on the rack 10 to 15 minutes. Spread crushed pepper on a plate and press steaks into pepper, coating both sides. Add olive oil to skillet (it should smoke) and sear steaks in skillet for 8 minutes, turning after 4 minutes. Serve each steak with 1 tablespoon vinaigrette or Orange Butter.

ORANGE BUTTER: Soften 1/2 cup butter and mix with 2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice.

Note: To cook entirely on grill, position rack 4 inches from heat. Press cracked peppercorns into steaks and drizzle 1 teaspoon of olive oil over each steak. Grill 8 minutes, turning after 4 minutes.

Per serving: 408 calories (51 percent fat); 23 grams fat (3 grams saturated); 2 grams fiber; 121 milligrams cholesterol; 214 milligrams sodium; 5 grams carbohydrate; 51 milligrams calcium

Fish Tacos

Makes 6 servings

2 pounds skinless red snapper fillets, cut into 4 equal pieces each about 1-inch thick

olive oil

1 lime, halved

salt and freshly ground pepper

coarse salt and pepper to taste

12 corn tortillas, steamed and wrapped in foil (may keep warm in grill, placed as far from heat source as possible)

1 large red onion, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds, brushed with vegetable oil and grilled

1 cup shredded red cabbage

chopped cilantro

Green Salsa (recipe follows)

Position oiled rack 4 to 6 inches above heat. Brush fish lightly with oil. Grill for about 10 minutes, turning once after 5 minutes. Fish is done when flesh flakes with a fork and turns opaque in the center.

Squeeze lime over fish, add salt and pepper to taste and cut fish into small pieces. Place fish on platter. Surround with plates or bowls of tortillas, grilled onion, shredded cabbage, chopped cilantro and green salsa. Diners build their own tacos.

GREEN SALSA: Combine 1/2 cup light mayonnaise and 1/2 cup canned salsa verde.

Per serving: 368 calories (23 percent fat); 10 grams fat (1 gram saturated); 4 grams fiber; 56 milligrams cholesterol; 648 milligrams sodium; 35 grams carbohydrates; 161 milligrams calcium

Cajun Catfish Sandwich

Makes 6 servings

1/2 to 1 cup Cajun breading (such as Golden Dipt)

1/3 cup buttermilk

3 catfish fillets, about 8 ounces each, skinned

12 slices sourdough bread

6 to 8 tablespoons mayonnaise or Cilantro-Lime Mayonnaise (recipe follows)

6 large slices tomato

6 lettuce leaves

Set rack 4 inches above heat. Pour breading on a plate. Pour buttermilk in a shallow bowl. One at a time, dip fillets first in buttermilk, then in the breading. Set on a rack to dry for a few minutes.

Grill for about 10 minutes (5 minutes per side), turning once with a spatula (or grill on oiled heavy-duty aluminum foil, if desired). Cut each fillet in half. Spread bread slices with mayonnaise. Place one catfish fillet on each of six bread slices.

Complete the sandwiches, adding tomato, lettuce and remaining six slices of bread.

CILANTRO-LIME MAYONNAISE: Mix 1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise with 1/4 cup minced cilantro, 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice and 1 teaspoon grated lime peel.

Per serving: 369 calories (30 percent fat); 12 grams fat (2 grams saturated); 2 grams fiber; 39 milligrams cholesterol; 747 milligrams sodium; 39 grams carbohydrate; 113 milligrams calcium

Barbecued Shrimp Stuffed With Chili Peppers

Makes 6 servings

2 pounds jumbo shrimp

2/3 cup bottled barbecue sauce (see note)

8 to 12 serrano peppers, halved, seeded and cut into fourths

12 slices bacon, halved (optional)

wood skewers soaked in water for several hours

olive oil or vegetable oil for basting (use only if not using bacon)

Set rack 4 to 6 inches from heat and prepare fire. Peel and devein shrimp. Brush with barbecue sauce. Place a pepper sliver in the slit made to remove vein. Wrap each shrimp with bacon, if desired, and thread on skewers. Grill 6 minutes, 3 minutes per side. If not using bacon, turn frequently and brush 2 or 3 times with oil. Shrimp are done when they become pink.

Note: If milder sauce is desired, thin with olive oil and juice of 1/2 orange.

Per serving: 216 calories (35 percent fat); 8 grams fat (1 gram saturated); 2 grams fiber; 173 milligrams cholesterol; 700 milligrams sodium; 11 grams carbohydrate; 47 milligrams calcium

Pub Date: 6/17/98

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